Making Peace with Food & Your Body: A Path to the Mountaintop

We all know that we should eat better, drink more water, get more exercise and 8 hours of sleep. But does knowing healthy choices motivate us to choose them? Not usually. Or at least, not continually. Knowing that something is good for us does not make us want to do it. There are those occasions where we do find ourselves practicing self-care, almost effortlessly. Has that ever happened to you? Perhaps a neighbor invited you to walk a 5K with her and, for awhile, you were getting up early every morning to train with her. Or maybe you tried giving up gluten because you wanted to know what the hype was about. Or maybe you gave up sugar for Lent. In each of these experiences, you may have felt very different in your body, in your energy. No more fog. I call this “getting to the mountain top.” We don’t typically stay there, but having the experience of feeling better than our normal state stays as a touchstone of how it is possible to feel better and we can build on that.

People often ask me if they should make big changes or take baby steps. Either path will work; however I warn  that if they try to make big changes all at once, don’t expect them to last.  My workshops, for example, are designed to help participants discover a new relationship with food that feels peaceful and nourishing.  But I don’t expect them to leave and live that vision automatically. We need to learn the steps and practice the skills. Our experience has becomes a touchstone, a reminder of how we want to feel. But if we feel discouraged that we cannot maintain it, we may give up altogether.

Then it is time to do the baby steps, those incremental steps that feel doable, that don’t trigger our resistance. Like taking a walk when the weather is nice, getting to bed ½ hour earlier, drinking more water or adding more greens (perhaps in a smoothie or a pill if we don’t like vegetables).

I’ve been to the mountain top – many times. It feels wonderful and I think I have it all together – until I don’t! Fortunately, now I am generally able to catch it before I slide all the way down. And, because I no longer beat myself up and I have an extraordinary toolkit, I pick myself back up and start again.

I went to my meditation group a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t been there for a long time but I had wanted to reconnect with the people. And I needed a jump start for getting back to my practice. When I came back from Richard Moss’ retreat, which I wrote about in my last newsletter, I was calm, focused and spacious much more of the time. In that state, I was able to notice when my mind was taking me someplace I didn’t want to go – stories about myself, about others and circumstances, into the future and into the past. But gradually, as I got more focused on projects and task and less connected to myself and my body, I got back into my old habitual thought patterns. It was easy and familiar to believe that I felt unsettled because of the circumstances in my life. There’s always something to blame our unhappiness on. But I have felt unhappy in beautiful settings and calm and at ease in the midst of turbulence. So, the truth is, that while our circumstances have an influence, it is really our minds that makes us happy and unhappy. We would expect seniors to be less happy because of the losses they’ve experienced. Yet, seniors are among the happiest people. People who do gratitude journals or prayers usually find themselves feeling better. They’ve purposely focused on what is good in their lives.

I do peer consultation my friend and colleague, Beth Rontel, about eating and body image issues. We talked today about how we can help clients feel better about the bodies they have.

Most people think they can only feel good about themselves after they’ve lost weight. If you’ve ever gotten to your ideal body weight, you may have felt you were at the mountaintop (although perhaps fearful of falling back down the mountain, feeling vulnerable and exposed ) But what if you could enjoy your body at its current size and weight , even if it’s not the number you have fantasized about? What if you could appreciate how it serves you, not just how it looks? What if you could accentuate your looks so you felt attractive? What if it’s not as much about the circumstances (your weight) as it is about what you do with your mind?

As I sit here writing this newsletter, I am nursing a swollen knee that I am told may require minor surgery.   A week ago, I was feeling fabulous. I tried paddleboarding for the 1st time and was looking forward to an autumn of hiking and biking and a few more kayak rides. And now my knee is so swollen it’s difficult to walk. My old habit of mind would be to worry about it (Future stories), to find a way to blame myself (Me stories) or to blame my body (You stories). It’s still very tempting. But I’m choosing not to go there. I remember how it feels to be at the mountaintop, noticing my thoughts but not getting carried away by them. Accepting of what is, because to fight it only makes me miserable.   And, while I can’t physically climb to the mountaintop, I can experience it in my mind. And that is pretty wonderful!

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